Photo by Erik Skindrud, N.P.S.
On Wednesday, August 26, four rockslides struck the area around the Royal Arches, in Yosemite Valley, causing the evacuation of the historic 5-star Ahwahnee Hotel and adjoining employee quarters. Damage from falling rock and other debris was limited to one or two cars in the dirt parking lot to the northeast of the hotel, but up to about 150 park guests were affected, many of them day-use visitors unable to reclaim their vehicles for several hours when the National Park Service cordoned off the area.
I heard the first rockslide very early in the morning yesterday. The snap, crackle and boom of boulders tumbling down the granite wall sounded like peals of thunder striking close by. The other three rockslides occurred within minutes of each other around 1:45 p.m. The cloud of granite dust rising over the Ahwahnee was visible across the valley floor.
Ahwahnee guests and staff were initially evacuated to the back lawn of the hotel, where they waited about 40 minutes before getting the bad news that the facility was closing down pending the arrival of geologists to assess the situation.
I rode my bike along a service road that winds around the east end of the hotel and entered the back lot, where I spotted a maroon car with its driver's side bashed up. The incense-cedar standing next to it lost a chunk of bark to a boulder the size of a microwave oven, which ricocheted through the minivan's window and into the car.
Behind the lot, there's a trail that runs along the base of the granite wall between the Ahwahnee and Mirror Lake. According to a hiker who scurried down it while I was photographing the car, the first fifty yards were covered with tree branches and other rock debris. As we talked, a dust cloud wafted over the area, with tiny flakes of granite shimmering in the sunlight.
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